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How good of a job has the Astros front office done this offseason?

The days of picking first in the draft may be beyond us, people.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Improvement is an essential part of any rebuild. It takes guts to literally tear down a franchise and build it from the bottom up. And Jim Crane, with newly appointed general manager, at the time, Jeff Luhnow, did just that. An Astros team that had finished at least ten games below five-hundred for the third time in four years and an Astros team that also had the worst farm system in baseball, according to Baseball America, needed a change. Needed a new look. Needed to be torn down.

And now, as the 2015 season approaches us, the Astros may actually be entering a season with a good chance of reaching the playoffs. The rebuild of the Houston Astros franchise - and their now stocked farm system - is almost over. Winning is on the horizon. And, why, you may ask? Well, because Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow have done a terrific job.

Focusing solely on this offseason just past, the front office have done a terrific job. Focusing on the broader picture, the rebuild has been a success. And, at the end of every success story, there are rewards to be reaped. I may be getting horribly ahead of myself but I love it. The team that the Astros front office have assembled is a contending one. The American League West is one of the, if not the, strongest in the game of baseball.

The best bit is, the Astros are almost ready to go toe-to-toe with the Mariners, the Angels and the Athletics. The days of Carlos Correa and Mark Appel aren't even in front us yet, but with the stellar job the front office has done this offseason, they don't need to be. The Astros have a chance this year, a bigger chance the year after, and an even bigger chance the year after that.

So, to cut to the chase; how good of a job has the Astros front office done this offseason? Let's get down to the specifics. The Astros' payroll currently sits at a little over sixty-three-million-dollars, a far cry from the fourty-four-million-dollars at sat at last season - which, for the record, was the lowest payroll in all of baseball. With the additional money spent, there are, of course, plenty of additional players ready to don an Astros uniform for the first time. Here's a list of the additions the front office made. The ones which are likely to make the roster, or make an impact at some stage this season, anyway.

  • Evan Gattis
  • Luis Valbuena
  • Colby Rasmus
  • Jed Lowrie
  • Hank Conger
  • Pat Neshek
  • Luke Gregerson
  • Dan Straily
  • Roberto Hernandez
  • Joe Thatcher
As is the norm with Astros, they avoided unjustly, overpriced, payroll crippling free-agents. Rather, smart, cost effective, efficient players were signed/traded for. Take, for example, fixing the bullpen. Last season, the bullpen was indisputably the Astros' biggest weakest. Meltdowns, ERA, you name it; the Astros were the worst at it. While some criticized the Astros of 'building a franchise backwards,' addressing the bullpen first, it was mere common sense. Fix what needed fixing.

The Astros were not doing anything backwards. In order to improve, one must take the incremental steps to becoming better. Get better, year by year. Win a few more games. If the offseason had ended with merely the bullpen being patched up - while I would've been very disappointed -  it still would have made sense. In Neshek and Gregerson, the Astros added two brilliant, back-end relievers. Thankfully, however, the Astros front office weren't done quite yet.

Adding Conger, to most, seems like a boring, pointless, protection move. But, of course, the Astros were adding one of the, if not the, best pitch framer in the game. Helpful from your number two backstop. It certainly wasn't a huge move. It didn't cause too many ripples in the baseball world. Smart, cost effective, efficient players is the name of the game, after all.

The left side of the infield, despite having some potential, for Houston, was one of the worst in the game. Matt Dominguez simply wasn't getting it done. Neither Marwin Gonzalez, nor Jonathan Villar were producing at a standard - or could continue to produce at a standard - capable of securing a full time job on the Astros roster. Enter both Lowrie and Valbuena. The weakness was spotted, the weakness was solved. In Lowrie they have a reliable, serviceable and solid shortstop. His shortcomings defensively will be overwhelmed with his potential offensively. Valbuena, who is moving into his prime, just keeps on getting better and better. Once more, hats off to the front office.

Adding both Gattis and Ramus created a problem for the Astros. A good problem, that is. Having too many outfielders is certainly a good problem. Both can mash. Gattis has more power, but Rasmus can play a good centre field. Hernandez gets ground balls, and lots of them. Straily has the potential to have a great year at the back of the rotation. Thatcher offers a nice lefty option out of the bullpen. Lots of signings, lots of good signings. You know what all of the signings have in common? They are all going to help the playoff hunt this year.

The Astros front office have done a magnificent job. From the tearing down, from top to bottom, of the franchise, to the making of a roster which can actually have a really great year. It's taken a few years. The process has been, to put it simply, a gradual improvement, year by year. And now, having edged closer to the five-hundred mark last season, they may actually feature in October. Its far from a cert, far from a lock, far from a guarantee. But, the potential is there. And that's exactly how I know the front office has done a stellar job.